• Cristina Gutiérrez won Stage 1 in the Lightweight Vehicles category.
• She became the first woman to win a Dakar stage since Jutta Kleinschmidt.
• Carlos Sainz is the defending Dakar champion.
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The 2021 Dakar Rally is now well and truly underway as competitors were set a punishing 277-kilometre route on Stage One. Rising to the challenge were Cristina Gutiérrez, Carlos Sainz and Toby Price who all bagged victories.
Gutiérrez set the fastest time in the Lightweight Vehicles category. The Spaniard, who has previously finished four editions of the Dakar in the car category, showcased her off-road talent to become the first female Dakar stage winner since Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2005.
Gutiérrez said: "There were lots of very tricky things on the stage. We had one puncture, but I think everyone had at least one today. The work that my co-driver François (Cazalet) did on the navigation was incredible because it was so tough today."
Losing time and getting lost
In the car category, reigning champion Carlos Sainz could not escape the difficulties presented on day one. Yet, despite suffering a puncture and a navigational hiccup, the Spaniard took the stage win and claimed the top spot on the leaderboard.
Sainz, a three-time Dakar champion, admitted: "There was a place where we got lost for three or four minutes, a place where lots of other cars got lost."
Pushing Sainz all the way was his fellow Mini JCW Buggy driver Stéphane Peterhansel. The 13-time Dakar winner eventually missed out on a stage win by 26 seconds, but has moved into second in the general classification.
Peterhansel said: "Navigation was not easy and there were a lot of rocks. It was so easy to get a puncture, and we got one 30km from the end of the stage. Tomorrow's stage also looks tricky."
Although they were unable to match the pace of Sainz, there were steady drives on Stage 1 for Giniel De Villiers, Kuba Przygonski, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Cyril Despres. The news was not so good for nine-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb as the Frenchman endured a difficult day.
Loeb said: "We were lost after 15km for 15min. Then we were in the dust of the cars that had past us. We had three punctures and we got lost a second time."
Toby Price leads the general classification in the bike category after securing a stage win on the route to Bisha. The Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider, who is chasing a third Dakar victory, said: "There's still plenty of chopping and changing to come in the standings. I'll be doing my best to stay calm and let things cruise along."
Price was joined by his Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team mates Sam Sunderland and Matthias Walkner in today's Top 5. Walkner said: "When we were in the big stones it felt like we were racing the Erzberg Rodeo back home in Austria."